By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
Chapters: 1 -
2 - 3 - 4
- 5 -
6 - 7 -
8 - 9 -
4: Jesus Christ
There is one supremely urgent question in life which every person must
answer. It was asked by Jesus Himself: "But who do you say that
I am?" (Matthew 16:15). It is finally not "What do others
say?" but "What do you say?" That alone really counts.
On the surface it is admittedly a strange question. Indeed, coming
from the lips of anyone but Jesus of Nazareth it would seem absurd.
"Who am I?" asked by someone else could not even be taken
seriously. "Why, of course, you are a man, a human being, just
like all other human beingswho do you think you are?" might be
the reply. But with this person Jesus we know one cannot answer so easily,
for there is mystery. Yet we know we must answerand we sense that what
we say is fearfully important.
In order to get at an answer to Jesus probing question, "But
who do you say that I am?" let us consider the matter under two
headings: Jesus Christ as the Son of man, and Jesus Christ as
the Son of God.
I. The Son of Man
It is striking to note that Jesusbefore asking, "But who do you
say I am?"raised the question, "Who do men say that the Son
of man is?" (Matthew 16:13). Thereby He designates Himself "the
Son of man." Later in this same narrative Jesus twice uses the
title again for Himself. "For the Son of man is to come with his
angels in the glory of his Fatherthe Son of man coming in his kingdom"
(Matthew 16:27, 28). Hence whatever might and ought to be said about
Jesus as the Son of God (as in Matthew 16:16) does not replace the name
and significance of Jesus as the Son of man.
The name by which Jesus almost invariably calls Himself in the New
Testament is "the Son of man." He applies this name to Himself
over eighty timesso commonly as to be almost overlooked.
"The Son of man came not to be served but to serve." "Foxes
have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has
nowhere to lay his head." "The Son of man came eating and
drinking." "After two days the Passover is coming, and the
Son of man will be delivered up." And so on, again and again. There
is no need to multiply references. To open ones New Testament to almost
any page in the four Gospels is to find this self-designation of Jesus
as "the Son of man."
It is therefore regrettable that we so seldom use that title for Jesus.
It was the phrase that came naturally to Him, one that expressed His
complete identification with all humanity. It is interesting to note
that the disciples never raised a question about the title, for doubtless
it seemed to them to fall so easily, so properly, so truly from His
Centuries before, the phrase "Son of man" (without the article
the) had been used frequently in the book of Ezekiel as a title
of address by God to the prophet"Son of man, stand upon your feetSon
of man, I sent you to the people" (Ezekiel 2:1, 3, and thereafter
some ninety times in the book). The phrase in Ezekiel is a way of expressing
the prophets humanity and His identification with other people. Other
passages such as the familiar words of Psalm 8"What is man that
thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for
him?"show that the phrase is another way of saying "man."
This backward glance at the Old Testament makes it clear why the disciples
probably never gave a second thought to Jesus calling Himself "the
Son of man." For, unmistakably, there was never in their minds
any question of His complete humanity. They were all sons of men; so
In light of that fact it seems strange that one of the early heresies
in the church denied that Jesus was really a man. This heresy was known
as Docetism. It vigorously affirmed that Jesus was God and only God,
and that He just seemed to be human.
What a vast departure from the New Testament! For nowhere, especially
in the Gospels, is there any question of Jesus real humanity. The disciples
lived with Him day by day. They ate with Him, they walked with Him,
they slept with Him, they saw Him weep, they watched Him pray. Surely
He was manman through and through.
Now let us examine that title again, "the Son of man," and
note the significance of the article the. Ezekiel was addressed
as "son of man"; Jesus refers to Himself as "the Son
of man." This may at first seem of no particular import. Yet surely
it is, for it says something about Jesus humanity that can be said
of no other man: He was the manman fully and completely as God
intended man should be!
In Genesis man is spoken of as being made "in the image of God."
And yet man, from Adam on, ceases to image the divine, because his sin
mars the image. Man made to love God and his neighbor disobeys God (Genesis
3), and soon thereafter is destroying his brother (Genesis 4). Man becomes
therefore inhuman, or subhuman, and it is only when Jesus Christ appears
in the world that man once again is truly man, truly himself.
Recall for a moment the scene of Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate
wherein Pilate says to the crowd, "Here is the man!" (John
19:5). One senses that it is not Jesus on trial, but Pilate; for here
is manhood supreme that judges and shames all other men. "Here
is the man!"man who alone of all mankind has never turned
aside from doing Gods will, regardless of the cost; man who alone of
all mankind has never ceased to love His neighbor, be he friend or foe.
"Here is the man!" Behold Him whose eye is undimmed, courage
undaunted, sacrifice unlimitedyes, to the very end.
This is the "second Adam," who does not fall, who not eat
of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There is no sin in Him
coming from the tempters lure. Indeed, it was not easy, for He likewise
was tested and tried by every wile and subtlety. Yet always He remained
firm. Unlike Adam He constantly obeyed the Fathers commandand so until
death was perfect in obedience, perfect in faith, perfect in love. Even
His worst enemies could find no real fault in Him.
In the words of the poet:
O mans best Man, O love's best love,
O perfect life in perfect labor writ,
O all mens Comrade, Servant, King, or Priest
What if or yet, what mole, what flaw, what lapse,
What least defect or shadow of defect,
What rumor, tattled by an enemy,
Or inference loose, what lack of grace
Even in tortures grasp, or sleeps, or deaths
Oh, what amiss may I forgive in Thee,
Jesus, good Paragon, Thou Crystal Christ?
(Sidney Lanier, "The Crystal Christ.)
"Mans best Man," "Crystal Christ"man who shows
us the wonder of what it is to be truly human, who gives us the perfect
pattern. Jesus, the Son of manthat we each might be a
son of man living like Him to the glory of God and the service of all
Let us then never fail to stress the importance of the humanity of
Jesus. For until He came, there was no paragon, no example, no man as
God would have all men be. There was no one who lived life in all its
possible abundance and fullness and joy. But now that He has come, we
have a Guide, a Pioneer, a Leader, whom to follow in His teachings and
His example is to know life that really endures. Of course, there is
self-denial and sacrifice in it, for did He not say, "If any man
would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and
follow me" (Matthew 16:24).
But in that very self-denial is liberation from bondage to self; in
that very sacrifice to the cross is the joy of a new life being resurrected
from the dead.
II. The Son of God
To recognize Jesus as "the Son of man" is of great significance
for what has yet to be said. For it is against this background that
He raises the all-important question: "But who do you say that
The disciples have already replied to His first question, "Who
do men say that the Son of man is?" that "Some say John the
Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
In other words, Jesus was unquestionably a prophet and among the greatestif
not the greatestin the eyes of the people. Jesus was a human being,
but also a prophet, which, by definition, means a spokesman for God.
Then comes that piercing question, "But who do you
say that I am?" And by that very question two things are
implied: first, the answer others are giving is not adequate; second,
it is highly important that they speak for themselves. Thereupon Simon
Peter replies for the disciples, "You are the Christ, the Son of
the living God" (Matthew 16:16).
The answer, as given in Matthew, is unmistakable. Though Jesus is the
Son of man and among the mighty prophets, He is much more. He is also
the Messiah, and as the Messiah is the Son of God.
Let us hasten to observe that what Peter said about Jesus as the Christ
is quite amazing. For though many people hoped for a Messiah, they never
went beyond thinking of a Son of man, of the line of David, who would
restore His people to power and prosperity. They never thought of Him
as somehow also "the Son of God." Indeed, so imbued were they
with the Old Testament teaching "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God
is one Lord" (Deuteronomy 6:4) that to consider the Son
of God was hardly possible. Yet here is Simon Peter, nourished on the
Old Testament, saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living
If such is amazing, let us note further: Jesus, the humble Son of man,
does not rebuke Peter as if he were indulging in fantasy. Rather does
Jesus reply: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood
has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven."
No rebukeindeed, that comes later when Peter wants to restrain Jesus
from the crossno rebuke, rather a blessing.
Jesus Christ is "the Son of man"and continues so
to be as the rest of the narrative unfoldsbut at the same time He accepts
the testimony that He is "the Son of God." And the latter,
He adds, only comes by revelation from above; "flesh and blood
has not revealed this to you, but my Father."
Unfortunately there have been people since the beginning of the Christian
era who have been unwilling to accept Jesus as the Son of God. (We have
already mentioned the Docetists who, contrariwise, would not accept
Him as the Son of man.) Others, from disbelieving Jews to so-called
liberal Christians, have not wanted to admit Him to be the Son of God.
The Jew has often been unwilling to accept Christ's divinity because
it seems to deny the unity of God;
the liberal Christian, because it seems to deny the unity of
man. How can Christ be the Son of God and God still be one? the
Jew asks. How can Christ be the Son of God and at the same time
man? the doubting liberal wants to know. In both cases the divinity
of Christ seems to be unreasonable. Hear this: That is exactly
the way it is bound to be, for according to Jesus Himself, this truth
goes beyond reason. This fact of the divine sonship comes by revelation
Hence whenever a person says, "I cannot accept the divinity of
Jesus Christ because it doesn't make sense," it only shows that
he is making reason his final guide rather than revelation. He is therefore
making what he thinks more important than what God's revelation discloses.
Furthermore, this also betrays the fact that Christian experience has
not gone very deep. Those who knew Jesus only casually, as did the multitudes,
could go no farther than calling Him teacher or prophet. But for those
who were closestHis own disciplesthere was the growing realization
that He had to be more than any human category could express.
Of course there were the "mighty works" (or miracles) that
He sometimes did, but miracles were not any real proof of His divinity.
For had not Old Testament prophets done mighty works tooMoses and the
parting of the Red Sea, Elijah and the fire from heaven consuming the
offering of Israel, Elisha and the raising of the Shunammite's son from
the dead, and many others? Miracles were no proof of divinity. Nor did
Jesus ever perform a miracle to prove His identity. Indeed, they were
always done to meet human need.
Did they then believe He was divine because He told them so?
No, not basically. As already noted, He consistently referred to Himself
as "the Son of man" and not as "the Son of God."
The answer is that it was neither mighty deeds nor self-attestation
that revealed the deeper secret of His nature. The revelation rather
came through His life, His person, and what they felt happening to themselves
in His presence. Of course, they knew that He was a man, essentially
as human as any one of them. However, a change began to occur in their
lives that only God could bring about. They knew their sins had been
forgivena thing only God can do; they felt a love and compassion far
beyond any mans capacity; they began to feel new life stirring in their
hearts that only God can bring. Truly He was man, and yet there was
something else: somehow God was there too.
Down through the centuries people have been finding the same thing
true about Jesus Christ. You may begin by following Him as only a man,
but if you stay with Him long enough He finally gets hold of you. Someday,
like doubting Thomas, with all doubts gone, you fall at His feet saying,
"My Lord and my God" (John 20:28).
Let one further thing be underscored: the belief that Jesus is the
Christ, the Son of God, is not only life-changing for the individual;
it is also the very rock on which the Church is founded. For
did not Jesus say in the words that followed Peters confession of faith,
"On this rock I will build my church and the powers of death shall
not prevail against it"? We must never then allow this rock to
be shifted by the skepticism of any ageelse the Church will be confounded
and the powers of death will surely prevail.
Let us end as we began. The one question in life of supreme urgency
is not "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" It is rather
the next question of Jesus, "But who do you say that I am?"
Can you not only say, "O mans best Man," but also, "You
are the Christ, the Son of the living God"? If so, then come the
wondrous words of Jesus in reply, "Blessed are you!"
And you are on your waypart of the true Church of the living God, with
Him to live and abide forever! Amen.
Chapters: 1 -
2 - 3 - 4
- 5 -
6 - 7 -
8 - 9 -
Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams,
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